Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

A cure worse than the disease

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on February 28, 2011

by S.K. for The Economist – Americas View, February 25th, 2011.

Last September Ecuador’s police staged a mutiny to protest a cut in their benefits. In the ensuing chaos Rafael Correa, the country’s leftist president, was trapped in a police hospital for hours until the army escorted him out, leading him to call the protest an attempted coup. Mr Correa can be forgiven for feeling a bit nervous about his hold on power: none of his three immediate predecessors finished their four-year terms.

The method the president has chosen to strengthen himself, however, may wind up harming Ecuador’s democracy even more than the police officers’ rebellion did. He has called a referendum that will be held on May 7th at a cost of $30m, which he is describing as a vote of confidence on his rule. Although some of its ten questions involve relatively trifling matters, like banning gambling and bullfights, others involve constitutional reforms that political scientists and legal scholars say could give the president a blank cheque to concentrate power in his own office.

Among the referendum’s most controversial questions is a proposal to form a temporary body that would overhaul the country’s courts within 18 months. “For the better, we will stick our hands into the judiciary,” Mr Correa has pronounced. He promises to welcome outside observers to ensure the reform doesn’t imply stocking courts with pro-government judges, but sceptics doubt he will be able to resist the temptation. The referendum also includes new limits on ownership of banks and media companies, demands that Congress pass a restrictive media law and makes “unjustified” wealth a crime. (continue reading… )

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